- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2001

Is organic really healthier?

Farmer Dave Shaw may avoid pesticides, herbicides and commercial fertilizers, but readers of your July 17 article "True organic farming takes root in Maryland" should not be misled into believing that such a practice is typical of organic agriculture.

Most organic farmers control insect pests by using many chemicals, including substances such as pyrethrum, rotenone, ryania, and sabadilla, which are derived from the flowers, roots or seeds of plants. Other organic pesticides, such as arsenic and copper sulfate, are mined from the earth. These chemicals are considered to be "natural," and thus are permitted in organic agriculture. But, ounce for ounce, they are just as toxic and/or carcinogenic as most synthetic pesticides.

Can we say, then, that organic or conventional pesticides are unhealthy? To answer that question, one needs to know how much of the chemicals are on the food that consumers actually eat.

For synthetic pesticides, federal and state regulations build in a thousand-fold safety margin for consumer exposure. But no such rules exist for organic, so no direct comparison can be made.

Consequently, it is incorrect to conclude, as the article suggests, that organic is healthy, but that "'we are damaging our health' with food grown by conventional farmers."

This perpetuates a significant fallacy about organic farming and fails to put into context some basic facts about conventional agricultural practices.


GREGORY CONKO

Director, Food Safety Policy

Competitive Enterprise Institute

Washington

Don't turn to Russia for economic inspiration

Columnist Lawrence Kudlow attributes Russia's economic growth to its adoption of a flat tax ("Economy tuning up in Russia," Commentary, July 17). But the Russian economy has been growing since 1999, even though the flat tax was only implemented in 2001. Two external causes account for this discrepancy.

The first is the spike in oil prices since 1999. Russia's economy is heavily dependent on its energy sector, which accounts for two-fifths of Russian exports. While Russia's total energy production is falling, the value of its energy exports are rising as global energy prices surge. Moreover, state-controlled energy firms are the source of the surpluses Mr. Kudlow attributes to the flat tax.

The second economic spur is the low exchange rate. Russia's currency is still undervalued as a result of the ruble's 1998 collapse. As a result, imports into Russia are expensive while its exports are artificially cheap. This led to an explosion in Russia's manufacturing exports. As the ruble rises again, however, Russia's failure to restructure manufacturing firms will resurface.

Fundamentally, the Russian government is still the problem, not the solution. The Russian tax code was complex, but the real drags on business are the transaction and compliance costs associated with corruption. The government also interferes with shareholder rights, for example, by placing a bureaucrat at the head of Gazprom, the allegedly private natural gas producer. It uses corporate law to ferret out political opponents instead of corrupt managers. None of these policies fosters the long-term economic growth that Russia so desperately needs.


WILLIAM D. SHINGLETON

Senior Fellow

National Defense Council Foundation

Alexandria

National PTA aspires to be 'one voice' speaking for 'every child'

Columnist Jeanne Allen's unsubstantiated remarks in "Not your mom's PTA" couldn't be further from the mission and child advocacy efforts of the National PTA (Commentary, July 9).

In regard to membership, we have more than 26,000 affiliates working in all 50 states, the District, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Department of Defense Schools in Europe and the Pacific, representing nearly 6.5 million members. Our membership reached its highest point in 1963 with 12.1 million members. As a result of the merger of the National PTA with the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers in 1970, the National PTA experienced a decline in membership. We believe now, as we did then, that taking a stance on controversial issues is a cornerstone of the National PTA's mission.

Lifestyles and community culture have changed and the stay-at-home moms, who were the typical PTA members, exist in much smaller numbers today. PTA members of today represent the ethnic diversity of our nation, and come from the ranks of traditional families, single-parent households, blended families, grandparents and other caring adults. For the past 10 years, the National PTA's membership has held steady — around 6.5 million members.

Regarding the National PTA's priorities and relevance, I direct you to the more than 26,000 local PTA units across the country doing great work on behalf of all children. People are most familiar and comfortable with the PTA being the fund-raising arm of a school, supplying monies to fill the gap between allocated public funds and the school's real financial needs, in order to provide for both necessities and "extras." This is not our mission. Rather, we encourage PTA members to create awareness about the education financial needs and priorities in their community and to take public action to encourage local boards, state legislatures and Congress to meet those needs.

As part of our mission,the National PTA strives to be a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for parents and a strong advocate for public education. Our new identity campaign and tagline — "everychild. onevoice." — speaks directly to the effort.

Contrary to Ms. Allen's column, the National PTA's identity campaign was not initiated as a membership drive, but as a means to create awareness of the national scope of PTA programs and services and clarify that PTA is a national organization working on behalf of all children. After much research with national board and state leaders, members and the general public, the National PTA began building a marketing plan to position the organization as an expert in parent involvement and a relevant resource for today's parents and educators.

Our goal is to set the National PTA apart from other organizations by demonstrating that the PTA is an organization that cares about current issues and the challenges facing families, schools and communities.

Our goal is to be very vocal about advocacy efforts on the state and national level as well as within local communities. We hope members do research our organization on all levels before joining to ensure their support of our mission. We do not hide our stance on issues information is provided to all of our members and is available publicly in the Legislative Activity area of our Web site (https://www.pta.org ).

While nonpartisan, the National PTA is a politically active organization committed to working with all parties in Washington members of Congress, the president, department officials and other advocacy groups to address our priority issues.

Historically, the National PTA legislative advocacy efforts have helped secure child labor laws, school lunch programs and entertainment content ratings. More recently, they have brought increased funding to communities for violence prevention programs and more public school teachers through passage of the Safe Children-Healthy Schools Initiative and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, respectively. And currently, we have initiated the Parent Act to stress parental involvement as a key factor in school accountability and effectiveness.

The PTA's work has always been on behalf of all children without concern for their families or teachers' participation in our organization. We encourage parent involvement in education in whatever form it takes, but clearly we believe that the network of information, tools and support that is available to PTAs through our system go further to support both local and national goals for children and families. With the continued support of our 6.5 million members, we'll be able to give every child a voice in this nation.


SHIRLEY IGO

President

National PTA

Chicago

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